Evangelicalism Within Christianity
The US populace is a multi-religious community. The major faiths being professed in the US include Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. Christianity is by far the most popular religion in the country. Christianity has contributed significantly to America’s political and social history. It was introduced to the US by colonialists from Europe including the French and the British. The right and freedom to worship has become an integral part of the US culture. Consequently, many denominations, sects, and movements have cropped up and thrived in the country. This paper examines Evangelicalism movement in the US discussing its history, the beliefs held by Evangelicals and their practices.
The analysis shows that Evangelicalism is the second largest movement in the world after neo-Pentecostalism. The American continent constitutes the second region with most Evangelicals after Sub-Saharan Africa. The denomination professes the supremacy and infallibility of the Bible, conscious efforts of spreading of the word of God and salvation through the death of Jesus Christ.
Religion and Movements in the US
There are many religions in the US. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center established that nearly 76.5% of the American population professes Christianity. This represents a 5% decrease from the data of studies conducted in 2000. A significant number of US citizens, 14.1%, did not identify with any religion. From those professing Christianity, 52% were Protestants, 24.5% were Roman Catholics with other denominations sharing the remaining percentage.
Christianity, being the dominant religion in the US, has experienced unrivaled growth. Many denominations have developed and so have Christian movements. They include Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical, Ecumenism, Christian Zionism, Holiness movement, Lesbian and Gay Christian movement among others. These movements, crucially, do not necessarily represent a difference in ideologies and beliefs. In most instances, they share so much in common that it becomes difficult to differentiate between them. The dominant Christian movement is the Neo-Pentecostal, otherwise referred to as Charismatic. Neo-Pentecostals constitute 14% of the overall Christian populace in the world. Its closest rivals are Evangelicals at 13.1% and Pentecostals at 12.8%. All these Christian movements are increasingly recording an increment in the number of followers meaning that the overall number of Christians is on the rise. Having established the background of religions and movements in the US to provide context, the essay will now focus on Evangelicalism movement in the US.
Evangelicalism is the second most dominant Christian movement in the US after Neo-Pentecostalism, just like in many parts of the world where Christians constitute the majority of the population. In fact, the US has the largest number of Evangelicals if Sub-Saharan Africa is taken out of the picture. The active nature and vigor of Evangelicalism have been attributed as the main reason why it has spread so fast in Africa since it portrays the image of Christ as the redeemer. Of all the Evangelicals in the world, 10% reside in the US and other parts of North America. What is more, Evangelicals in the US constitute nearly a third of the total Evangelicals in the world? The high number is credited to the influence that America had on developing and enhancing Evangelicalism during its infancy in the 18th Century. Evangelicalism is, therefore, one of the most dominant Christian movements in the country.
History of Evangelicalism
Evangelicalism was conceived in the 18th Century through to the 19th Century. It has been centuries of refining the ideals. It is only after the 1950s that the ideals have been standardized across the world. Most importantly, Evangelicalism spans across different denominations, thus being multi-denominational. It started in the 1730s in Europe. Britain is credited as being the originator of the movement because at the time there were many religious reformations due to declining morality.
The modern-day Evangelicalism is a mixture of ideologies and beliefs from a host of other movements and denominations including Pietism, Presbyterianism, and Lutheranism among others. Its major tenets and ethos have been borrowed from these movements. For instance, its insistence on purity and holiness in observing the word of God was appropriated from Pietism. This gives Evangelicals a sense of spirituality that distinguishes them from subscribers of other movements. From the Presbyterians, Evangelicals derived the act of precision in reading the Bible, thus the belief that the Bible is infallible and should not be criticized in any way. From the Anglicans, Evangelicalism derived introspection and the urge to spread the Gospel to the outsiders since at that time religion was for a selected few and a sign of social status. The revival was born. This is not to insinuate that there was no religious reawakening in the past, they were. The ones that were exhibited around the 1730s had renewed vigor. The revivals stemmed from the fear that the mainstream movements such as the Methodism, Lutheranism, and Presbyterianism were increasingly disregarding religious piety. The evangelical revivals during the 1730s, therefore, sought to restore objective reading of the bible and eradicate wayward interpretation that reduced Puritanism.
Evangelicalism during the 18th century was spearheaded by Charles Wesley and his brother John Wesley. The enthusiasm, with which they spread the word of God, became contagious. The people in Britain and all its colonies in America were filled with confidence and enthusiasm. There was renewed radicalism in preaching the word especially to the masses that were considered outcasts. This revival of the 1730s represented the first great awakening.
The second great awakening took place between the 1790s and the early 1800s and further refined Evangelicalism. It was spearheaded by a preacher known as Charles Finney. He crystallized the beliefs of Evangelicals so that they could be easily identified. Finney defined the Bible as the principal source of inspiration for Christians. He postulated the sanctity of the cross and its significance in facilitating salvation. He also postulated conversion as a basic tenet of Evangelicalism and activism in spreading the word of God as the outward manifestation of the denomination. Throughout the 19th century, the Evangelicalism movement increasingly became radical. It rejected all views that seemingly promoted any form of liberal theology. To date, Evangelicalism is grounded on the Bible inerrancy meaning that the word of God is interpreted and applied in restricted ways, as written, and is considered infallible.
The Evangelicalism movement in the US experienced a rift after the First World War. It was caused by disagreements on how the Evangelicals ought to relate with the worldly people. A section of Evangelicals maintained their militant stance of Puritanism and dedication to the ideals of the Bible. This part was referred to as the fundamentalist. The other group opted for a softened stance, preferring appeasement and shades of judgementalism. This section was largely referred to as the neo-Evangelicals. These two groups collectively form the modern Evangelicalism movement.
Beliefs and Practices
Evangelicalism is based on a set of beliefs that include conversions, Biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism. The collective effect of these beliefs is that it makes the proclamation of the word of God of utmost importance. Conversionism is Evangelicalism’s most defining characteristic. It is the belief that one has to be ‘born again’ in order to be saved. A believer in Christ has to be reborn in order to receive the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals believe that being born again is a sign of having faith in Jesus. It is the expression of submission to Jesus Christ and his teachings. Being born again implies shunning sin and living for Christ. The experience marks a new beginning. It signifies the end of a sinful life and onset of holiness. Evangelicals believe that it is imperative that one gets born again to be assured of salvation.
Being born again represents the actual moment when one experiences conversion. It is often marked with a sullen period of grief and silence as one deliberates on the sinful life he/she has been leading. The convert then believes that his/her confession of sins and proclamation that he/she is being born again brings salvation through faith. The grief is then replaced with relief upon the realization that Christ has forgiven him/her. From then henceforth it is the duty of the convert to avoid sinning and to ask for forgiveness from God whenever he/she sins. Since Evangelicalism is a conservative movement based on Puritanism, it is expected that all sins as prescribed in the Bible would be avoided without correcting or otherwise modifying God’s word.
The second major defining belief of Evangelicalism is activism. This is the idea that the Gospel of Christ should be shared as widely as possible. Activism is the conscious decision to express the word of God to all. This is rooted in the Great Commission of Christ that tasked Christians with spreading God’s word to all the people in the world. This belief has led to evangelical works such as crusades, Christian charity works, and radio and television programs that preach the word of God. Other activities include prayer groups, evangelical podcasts, and webcasts and various forms of religious gatherings like Bible study groups. The purpose of these activities and interventions is to spread the word of God and enhance its understanding. Consequently, Evangelicals practice testifying whenever they can as this is one way of active spreading the word of God declaring His goodness and great deeds. Unlike in ancient churches such as the Catholic and Presbyterian where there is a structured way of conducting church sermons, Evangelicals have flexible church services. In some denominations, the pulpit is open to anyone who would like to share the word of God with the rest.